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Two attributes were readily apparent when Arizona freshman Bennedict Mathurin first stepped foot onto the McKale Center hardwood last season: the 6-6 Canadian possessed incredible run and jump athletic skills and could also shoot the set 3 point shot with pinpoint accuracy.
Mathurin certainly appeared promising but the college basketball world is filled with players showcasing similar dimensions
Unbeknownst to many, he had a two year plan that would change his professional trajectory and college legacy.
When it comes to producing top level perimeter talent Arizona basketball is in the upper echelon of the college basketball world. And has been for nearly four decades.
Names like Stoudamire, Bibby, Terry and Gardner encompassed a ten year run of rarely seen lead guard play in college basketball. This talent led to the moniker of “Point Guard U.”
But, the amount of talent at the small forward position with players like Chris Mills, Michael Dickerson, Richard Jefferson and Andre Iguoudala took a backseat to no program.
All the aforementioned names were Lute Olson players, however. Unlike Olson, ex-UA Coach Sean Miller didn’t run a system conducive to allowing explosive perimater players to realize their true potential.
But that was about to change.
While Mathurin was recruited by and signed to play with Sean Miller, it would be the shift to first year UA Coach Tommy Lloyd and the emphasis in the one on one game that would change everything about Mathurin’s game.
“I like to give my guys freedom to play and show what they can do on the court,” Lloyd said earlier this season.
And nobody has benefited from that more than Benn Mathurin.
“I just said hey listen we can make a two year plan on development and see how you progress, take a little bit of the pressure off you,” Lloyd said earlier Wednesday at media day. “If you outperform it, great. Obviously I think he’s well on his way to outperforming my two-year plan.”
But it’s one specific aspect about Mathurin’s development that sticks out to some.
“As good as Benn was last season, he came back with a lot more this year,” said ex-Arizona great and current Pac-12 commentator, Matt Muehlebach.
“He really found an ability to become a dynamic one on one player as opposed to just a three point shooter and finisher.”
Indeed, Mathurin’s ability to lure his defender off balance and slip by for the mid range jumper or drive to the basket is something rarely seen in college basketball.
And then there is the three point shot. Which TCU fans know all too well about.
With a trip to the sweet 16 in the balance and Arizona scattered offensively, Mathurin grabbed the ball and cleared out.
What proceeded next was a one on one three point pull that hit nothing but net and would eventually send the game into overtime, where Mathurin and the teammates would never look back.
“It was that shot right there where I went from thinking that maybe this isn’t just a top 10 pick but closer to a top 5 NBA draft pick,” Muehlebach said. “Then you factor in just all the highlight plays he has here and it’s really impressive and you start to ask yourself where he ranks among the greats in school history.”
Mathurin’s accomplishments make it fair to ask who was the last perimeter player at Arizona as good as Mathurin. Nick Johnson was Pac-12 Player of the year and one of the best players of the Miller era. But does anyone really put Johnson in Mathurin’s league?
Jerry Bayless certainly has the numbers and precocious nature to make a case against Mathurin. But, Bayless doesn’t have any of the highlights or clutch moments Mathurin has.
The next player matching Mathurin’s impact, stats and moments is Salim Stoudamire more than 15 years ago
An accomplishment in its own right.
Even though Mathurin’s UA career is winding down, it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll enter the NBA draft at the end of the season, there is certainly a lot more to achieve.
Arizona has knocked on the door do the Final 4 five times in the past 20 years, but never broke through.
A 20 year plus absence from an event that Wildcats fans could previously expect every four or five years, has Tucsonans feeling anxious.
A Final 4 appearance would send Mathurin’s jersey into the rafters but either way his legacy is secured as one of the best and most accomplished players in school history.
Not bad for a two year plan.
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